Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
If you would like to contribute to this compendium please submit your ideas here.
All will be considered for publication by our expert panel.
  • Share

    Two Japanese magazines, launched in the 1920s, played a critical role in the development of Science Fiction writing in Japan[UPDATED: 3-8-2018]

    Two magazines in the 1920s Shinseinen (New Youth) and Kagaku Gaho (Science Pictorial) played pivotal roles in the development and establishment of the modern Science Fiction genre in Japan. 

    New Youth, launched in 1920 was packed full of short stories targeting “urban modern men”, and quickly became an outlet and publishing platform for science-fiction-type stories and detective stories. 

    The editor of the magazine grouped these stories into two categories: 1) honkaku (classic) and 2) henkaku (irregular) stories.

    Science fiction fell into the latter and was, according to Robert Matthew in his book Japanese Science Fiction: A View of a Changing Society, initially categorized in Japan in its modern form as ‘irregular detective fiction’ 

    Science Pictorial, set up just after Amazing Stories, science fiction magazine launched in the United States in April 1926 by Hugo Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing, also played a critical role. Gernsback is generally credited for the first use of the term Science Fiction. Both magazines were the first in each country to be devoted solely to science fiction. 

    Science Pictorial ‘s mission at launch was to “seek revolutionary works of high literary value which are purely scientific in their material and do not lapse into the detective style ”. 

    The two Japanese magazines published stories such as: Jinzo Ningen (Artificial Human) by Hatsunosuke Hirabayashi (1892-1932), which is often cited by academics as a classic example of Japan’s so-called “early Showa robot literature”, which there was lots of. Other notable examples include: Chitei Jigoku (The Animal Kingdom Under the Earth) by Juran Kuze (1901-1946); and Shindoma (The Demon of Vibration) by Juza Unno (1897-1949), who is sometimes referred to as the Father of Japanese Science Fiction. 

    Despite this early creativity, the terms Science Fiction (Saiensufikushon), SF and Sci-Fi, however, only came into use in Japan after the Second World War. 

    Nevertheless, the words Kagaku Shosetsu (科学小説), which is still occasionally used today, alongside Kuusou Kagaku Shosetsu  (空想科学小説), meaning imaginary science novel, were coined as early as 1886 for the Japanese “scientific novel”. 

    The genre’s roots, however, go back much further in Japan to stories known as Mirai-ki. Nonetheless, the genesis of today’s science fiction writing in Japan is said to be the translation into Japanese of the French author and playwright Jules Verne’s (1828-1905) novels in the 1880s. 

    Verne’s books arrived during a period of rapid modernisation and change in Japan known as the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when Japan was opening up to Western influence after the resignation of the Shogun and more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation.  Verne’s books and others like them had a major impact on readers and budding authors. 

    New Youth and Science Pictorial provided the platforms for Japanese writers interested in science and fiction, who grew up on these Western translations, to flourish and for the genre to develop with its own Japanese characteristics. 

    Subsequently, two commercially successful magazines, launched in the 1950s, Uchujin (1957-2009) and SF Magajin (1959-) played an equally important role for the next generation of Japanese authors, who are sometimes referred to by academic as “The First Generation Writers” of modern Japanese science fiction.

    This so-called first generation of authors includes writers such as Kobo Abe (1924-1993), Shinichi Hoshii (1926-1997), Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011) and Yasutaka Tsutsui, who was born in 1934.

    Science fiction has now become an important and popular genre in Japan that is still flourishing creatively and commercially today in all formats: book, animation, film and graphic novel.
    Two Japanese magazines, launched in the 1920s, played a critical role in the development of Science Fiction writing in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th Century[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    Following the arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first book using the technology in 1593, after Japan’s invasion of Korea, a new industry emerged in Japan -commercial publishing. 

    According to academics, such as Donald Keene, professor of Japanese at Columbia University, “printing soon developed into the hobby or extravagance of the rich, and many examples of Japanese literature began to appear in small editions,” with commercial publishing only arriving about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). 

    According to The History of the Book in East Asia, by Cynthia Brokaw and Peter Kornicki, the Kyoto-based publishers mostly didn’t use movable type, even though the technology helped trigger the birth of the industry 

    Three publishing hubs in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (later known as Tokyo) developed over time, with Edo initially being a market for books, as opposed to an originator of them. 

    There was only a limited amount of publishing conducted by the Shogunate authorities (the government) during this period. Some of their publishing needs, such as the printing of calendars, maps and directories, were outsourced to commercial publishers. Commercial publishers dominated the industry, commissioning the engraving of print blocks and selling titles.
    Japan’s first commercial publishing emerged in Kyoto in the early 17th Century Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series, was the first book approved for translation and publication in Japan after World War II[UPDATED: 3-5-2018]

    During the American occupation of Japan, after the Second World War (1945-1952), all publications were reviewed by General Douglas MacArthur’s team at GHQ (General Headquarters). MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), recommended The Long Winter, the sixth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series for publication. It was published in 1949, under the title Nagai Fuyu by Kosumoporitan-sha (Cosmopolitan Publishing) translated by Aya Ishida. 

    Nagai Fuyu is generally cited as the first translated book to be granted permission for publication by SCAP. During the war the publication, distribution and reading of books in English were prohibited in Japan and more than a thousand books were banned or censored. 

    The Long Winter is about the Ingalls family in the Little House series surviving being snowed in with limited food supplies during a long eight-month winter. The Long Winter was apparently chosen to aid “democratization” and to “buoy the morale of a defeated and starving people”. 

    One of the stated strategic goals of the occupation was “to build a future for the people of Japan based upon considerations of realism and justice” and “to infuse into the hearts and minds of the Japanese people principles of liberty and right heretofore unknown to them.” 

    Learning about American values and America was part of this. GHQ actively encouraged the book’s distribution to public, and school libraries across Japan. German translations were published in a similar effort. 

    Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a special message, dated 8 July 1948, to the children of Japan, which appeared in the book. It ran as follows: “things of real value do not change with the passing of years nor in going from one country to another.  These I am sure you have.  It is always best to be honest and truthful, to make the most of what we have, to be happy with simple pleasures, to be cheerful in adversity and have courage in danger”. The book was very popular. 

    In 1975, a Japanese anime version of the series was launched under the title: Sogen no sojo Laura (Laura the Prairie Girl). And like many other countries around the world the television series Little House on the Prairie, based on the third book in the series, was broadcast in Japan from 1975-1982. The books were originally written during the Great Depression with the first in the series published in 1932.
    The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series, was the first book approved for translation and publication in Japan after World War II Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Since 1947 the Japanese government has approved and paid for all Japanese school level student textbooks[UPDATED: 3-2-2018]

    The Japanese government pays for all student textbooks for the millions of students participating in its compulsory education system. It sets guidelines for certified publishers and approves textbooks before publication. Schools, teachers and local educational boards, depending on the type of school, are free to select which publishers’ textbook they want to adopt and use in their classes. 

    The current system for textbook approval, which is open and transparent, was created after the Second World War in 1947, when Japan was occupied by US forces and run by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). 

    Under this system, like other countries, the government sets curriculum guidelines and certified publishers in the private sector submit their books for approval. Mexico, for example, has a very similar system, which like Japan also requires all books to be printed locally. It is known locally as CONALITEG. Revisions are sometimes requested, but in Japan most books are generally approved. 

    Japan has one of the world’s highest school participation rates of 99.8% and nine years of compulsory education, generally from age 6 to 15. With more than 6 million students attending elementary schools and more than 3 million lower secondary, this means that the Japanese government is one of the largest book buyers in Japan. 

    Despite the system being very similar to that in other countries, it is not uncontroversial, as textbooks that do not cover history in the manner that some of Japan’s neighbours would like or think appropriate, have been approved in the past. And some criticise these particular books for ignoring Japan’s actions in Asia during the Second World War. 

    The textbook market is competitive and there is considerable choice of textbooks to choose from. Commonly used textbooks do mention and reference the Nanking Massacre for instance; and schools often do not select the more controversial history textbooks generally published by nationalist groups seeking attention and controversy, which the media often focus on. The issue has become so sensitive that Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs now publishes information on its website in English, Korean and Chinese on how textbooks are approved and distributed in Japan to help clarify the situation.
    Since 1947 the Japanese government has approved and paid for all Japanese school level student textbooks Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    Japan’s publishers not ranked as global players[UPDATED: 3-1-2018]

    No Japanese publisher features in the ranking of the top ten publishers by revenue produced by the International Publishers Association (IPA). Despite Japan being the world’s 4th largest publishing market, according to the IPA.

    Publishers from all of the largest five country markets, except Japan, appear in the IPA’s top ten ranking, 4 from the United States, 2 from China, 2 from the United Kingdom and one for Germany.

    Pearson, headquartered in London, is ranked as the world’s largest and is more than twice the size of the three largest Japanese publishers combined.

    Japan’s largest publishers are Shueisha, Kodansha and Kadokawa, which were founded in 1925, 1938 and 1945 respectively. They publish thousands of new books every year as well as manga and other publications.
    Japan’s publishers not ranked as global players Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    The first Japanese dictionary was published in 682[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    According to the Nihon Shoki, Japan’s second oldest history book often translated as The Chronicles of Japan, the Japanese Emperor Tenmu (631-686) was given a dictionary in 682 titled Niina (New Characters). Early Japanese dictionaries like this one were actually dictionaries of Chinese characters (letters) written in Chinese and annotated in Japanese. 

    The first full-scale multi-volume Japanese dictionary Wakun no Shiori (Guidebook to Japanese Pronunciations), was published in 1887. However, Genkai  (Sea of Words) compiled between 1889 and 1891 by Fumihiko Otsuki, modeled on Webster’s dictionary, is considered by lexicographers as the “first modern Japanese dictionary”. 

    In comparison, the first modern and most influential early English dictionary, A Dictionary of the English Language, was published more than 130 years earlier in 1755. It was written and compiled by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Earlier English dictionaries existed, but were considered inferior. 

    Noah Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, said to be the first truly American dictionary, in 1806. While The Oxford English Dictionary was first published in 1884, three years before the Guidebook to Japanese Pronunciations, Japan’s “first” dictionary.  
    The first Japanese dictionary was published in 682 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    The first Japanese translation of the bible was produced around 1549[UPDATED: 2-27-2018]

    St. Francis Xavier is said to have brought a Japanese translation of sections of The Gospel According to Matthew with him when he arrived in Japan in 1549. The translation was done by a young Japanese man called Yajiro, who is generally reported to have been the first Japanese person to convert to Christianity. He converted while living in Goa, India. 

    Subsequently, in 1837, Karl Gutzlaff (1803-1851) translated, with the help of several Japanese people, The Gospel and Epistles of John into Japanese. This translation is sometimes cited as the first Protestant translation. 

    When Japan opened up to the West in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) the American missionaries James. C. Hepburn (1815-1911) and Samuel. R. Brown (1810-1880) worked on a new complete Japanese translation of the Bible, which was published in 1880. Hepburn also compiled an English-Japanese dictionary consisting of twenty thousand words published in 1867. 

    In comparison, the famous Gutenberg Bible, the first major Western book printed using movable metal type in Europe was published in 1452, and England’s first printed bible was published in 1535.
    The first Japanese translation of the bible was produced around 1549 Posted by Richard Nathan
  • Share

    The first bilingual English-Japanese dictionary was compiled in 1830 by someone who had never visited Japan[UPDATED: 2-23-2018]

    The English missionary Walter H. Medhurst (1796-1857), who never actually visited Japan, compiled the first bilingual ‘dictionary’ An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary in 1830. 

    The 334-page book was printed in Batavia (Jakarta) Indonesia, where Medhurst was based with his family. It contains Japanese printed in both Roman (Latin) and Japanese letters (characters) together with their English equivalents. Medhurst wrote at the time of publication that the word vocabulary was used in the book’s title as it was “preferred to that of Dictionary, as the work does not profess to include every word in either language”. The book’s second part does, however, contain nearly seven thousand words and is thus considered by some experts to fall within the definition of a dictionary. 

    Medhurst was one of the early translators of the Bible into Chinese and complied Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionaries. He was also proficient in Malay, but not Japanese and had to rely on exiting dictionaries and other documents to compile his Vocabulary. 

    Medhurst wrote in the book’s introduction: “The following compilation is with diffidence offered to the public, principally because the author has never been to Japan, and has never had an opportunity of conversing with the natives: but having through the kindness of several gentlemen from Japan, obtained the sight of some native books, particularly in the Japanese and Chinese character combined, the author has been enabled, from his knowledge of the latter language, to compile the following vocabulary”. 

    The Japanese translator Hori Tatsunosuke (1823-1892), who initially acted as a Dutch-Japanese translator before learning English is said to have compiled the first “proper” and widely used English–Japanese dictionary, Ei-Wa taiyaku  Shuchin jisho (A Pocket Dictionary of the English and Japanese Language), which was published 30 years later in 1862. It was mostly based upon English-Dutch and Dutch-Japanese bilingual dictionaries including sections of A New Pocket Dictionary of the English-Dutch and Dutch-English Languages, and contained about 35,000 headwords and consisted of about a thousand pages. 

    Another early dictionary was the six-thousand word English-Japanese dictionary, Angeria gorin taisei, compiled on behalf of the Japanese authorities by the Nagasaki-based Dutch interpreter Motoki Shozaemon in 1814, which also drew on Japan ‘s early exposure to the Dutch language. Unlike Medhurst’s 1830 Vocabulary, it was not a two-way bilingual dictionary. 

    The first Dutch-Japanese dictionary, the Edo Halma, was complied in 1796 by Sanpaku Inamura (1758-1811) using a Dutch–French dictionary published in 1708 by the Dutch printer and publisher Francois Halma (1653-1722) as its base. Dutch helped accelerate Japan’s knowledge of the English language and its study significantly. 

    However, the earliest Japanese bilingual dictionaries offering translations of Japanese into a Western language were in fact Portuguese-Japanese dictionaries, including the often celebrated Vocabylario da lingoa Iapam compiled in 1603 by Jesuit missionaries.
    The first bilingual English-Japanese dictionary was compiled in 1830 by someone who had never visited Japan Posted by Richard Nathan